About a week before my husband and I got engaged, we were walking at dusk in St. Peter, in Germany, in the Black Forest. A cover band was playing Creedence Clearwater Revival at a lakeside festival, and I remember thinking how strange it was to hear pitch-perfect Southern rock interspersed with audience banter in German.
I remember stopping my then-boyfriend, holding his hands, his arms, his waist, and looking into his eyes.
“This is the time,” I said, and we both knew what time I meant. I was ready to be married, to be planning to be married. We’d been together for six years. It was July and his brother had gotten engaged the previous Christmas to his longtime girlfriend. I’d cried, happy for them and maddened for myself. I’d told him that it seemed like everyone knew what they wanted except for him.
He didn’t propose beside that lake. He waited, because he’d been waiting that entire three-week sojourn in Germany following my graduation, an engagement ring secreted away in a contact lens case in his backpack. He had a plan, because my husband always has a plan.
When we first began dating, we talked about Germany a lot. He’d spent a year there after high school, living with a host family and working in a hotel as part of an international program. I’d never been out of the country but it was something I’d always dreamed of doing. We spent a lot of time in coffee houses, where he was particularly fond of telling me stories about adventures he and his friend, another fella named Michael, would go on. Once they went to Lucerne, Switzerland, and drank hot chocolate in a café before a picturesque window with a view of the snow-capped Alps. I heard the story so many times I felt like I’d been there myself, for want of having been there myself.
So naturally, when we planned our trip to Germany, we aimed to pass through Lucerne and fly out of Geneva. We spent a day walking all over the old town walls and along the river with that very same friend, who now lived in Lucerne, crossing the medieval Chapel Bridge twice. The second time over the bridge he stopped us partway through. He didn’t get down on one knee, but what he did do was flash me a terrified grin and work his way through a series of sentiments that led to his asking me to marry him and me immediately bursting into ugly tears, shocked, and burying my head in his shoulder, ruining the photograph he’d asked his friend to take. I said yes, of course.
We were married a little over a year later, and nine years ago exactly, today.
He told me later that the reason we’d walked all over Lucerne that day was because he was trying to find that café because he wanted to propose there, to have our own memory to talk of in that place where he had such a fond memory of his own. It’s the sort of thing that’s so like him: surprisingly, endearingly sentimental, even whimsical, for a man who often claims he isn’t, a man that I’ve loved for so long for knowing his own heart - even when I’m arguing that maybe he doesn’t.
Here is a thing I am glad of: that it wasn’t the time, by that lake. That there was a time already ahead of us, just waiting.
Here is a thing I hope: we have a whole lot more.